Skull Tattoo - Illustrator Tutorial

Learn about the pen tool, pathfinders, and transforming objects

while making a fairly basic but cool looking skull tattoo.

  1. Draw the shape below using the pen tool, to make a "piece of flair."
  2. Select your flair, copy and paste the new copy in front (ctrl+c to copy, then ctrl+f to paste in front). Go to 'Object > Transform > Reflect' and select "horizontal" to reflect the shape over the horizontal axis.
  3. With the Selection Tool (black filled arrow), click to select your copied object, move it to the left, then rotate the top right corner down a little (when you hover near the corner point, the cursor will change to the one shown below. Then you can click and drag to rotate the object).
  4. Make a crescent shape using the pen tool again.
  5. Select the two shapes shown below, then click the Trim button in the pathfinder window (to bring up the pathfinder window, go to 'Window > Pathfinder'). "Trim" will cut the bottom object in to 2 pieces where it is overlapped by the top object.
  6. Select the shape shown and move it in front of the other shapes (right click the shape once selected and choose 'Arrange > Bring to Front').
  7. Grab your Direct Selection Tool (the white filled arrow) and use it to select the shapes shown. Once selected, use the Trim pathfinder again.

    Using the Direct Selection Tool, select the shape shown below and move it to the front.
  8. Now select all of your shapes, then give them a 1pt white stroke. Notice how the shapes are now intertwined.
  9. So your flair is done. Time for some skull making. You will be drawing the right half of the skull, using the pen tool once again. I'll do my best to explain. Start at the bottom with a click, then click and drag each point on your way to a skull shape. When you get to the top, just click (no drag), then click the starting point again to complete the 1/2 skull. The left side does not have to be perfectly straight.
  10. Draw an eye socket and a half nose with the pen tool, then fill them with white. Zoom in for better control (ctrl+plus symbol)
  11. Here comes the fun part: select everything, then copy and paste in front (ctrl+c, ctrl+f). Then flip your copied objects over the vertical axis (go to 'Object > Transform > Reflect' then choose "Vertical"). You should now have this mess:
  12. Now simply move your copied objects over to complete the other half. Let's get rid of the line down the middle of the skull. Select the right eye socket and right half of the nose and bring them to the front (right click, 'Arrange > Bring to Front').
  13. Finally, select the two halves of the skull (not the eyes/nose) and in use the "Add to Shape Layer" button in the pathfinder window.

    The final result:



this is really good.
actually i was gonna be mean.
like jus playin around. lol.
buutttt. i have to admit this is really really good/
haaaaaa. i reallly want a skullllll tat.

thx, now i'm able to use the

thx, now i'm able to use the pen ^^

Excellent little tutorial

I'm a non artist who's used to Photoshop & I've struggled with Illustrator for ages. This is a superb little exercise that covers a lot of ground quickly & simply. I can't draw for S**t and I got an impressive result though I struggled with the last bit & don't see the point of adding to the shape area, it does nothing at all. In the end I just had to move the 2 halves together which worked fine. I also had a problem with one element refusing to come to the front but I played with it for a while until I got the right result. Many thanks.

regarding this tutorial

its realy superb tutorial but in the last section of the tutorial i did get the add to shape area in the path finder except this its really superb


this is a pretty nice lesson, though knowing how to make the skull would be a little bit more nice. But i still managed to get it so I'm good lol.

thx very much nice

thx very much
nice tutorial
really help me

this is dumb

this is dumb

if its dumb fuck off wanker

if its dumb fuck off wanker

hey, great tutorial,

hey, great tutorial, perfectly explained. thank you

wow man this is a sick

wow man this is a sick program i will definatly use this in school agan

nice one

Thanks for the tutorial, it was helpful.

Last step is not clear, but well, did it my way :)

Looking at it again, I guess

Looking at it again, I guess it's not very clear. Maybe this will help: select everything on the right side, then move it over to the left 5px or so 'til the two sides meet. THEN, do the 'Add to shape layer pathfinder.' Hope that helps anyone who doesn't get it.


Just when I was about to give up on the blasted Illustrator program, a detailed tut like this comes along and shows me you can make cool stuff in it just as Photoshop. I'm taking a course in graphic desing and just started using this program and it's been going horribly. Thanks soo much man.

can someone tell me why i

can someone tell me why i cant make the final step, which is to add to shape layer ? when i click to add to shape layer, nothing happens. The skull didn't combine

decent tutorial, but the

decent tutorial, but the creator, like many others, got lazy in the explanations, and images, and assumed we know what it sholud look like and what to do, and how many points there should be and so on and so forth

True but,

the point of a tutorial is to learn, not to copy. Using the pen tool can be tricky but, with practice you don't need to know how many points to use, use as many as it takes to get it look good and play around with the points. Also, the less points you have the smoother the lines and shapes will be. Use this as a learning tool, not just to copy exactly what they have done.


Thanks from Novi Sad, Serbia

about this tutural

its very nice to know how to use path finder tool


coocool tutorial
i li love the tatoo!!!

One of the good tutorials....

Hi Slick,
What I liked in this tutorial is the way you expained each and every step. This is what of utmost importance for beginners. You gave proper graphics and labelling was quite nice. It seems that you take enough trouble and do hard work to create some stuff for people. Thanks for your efforts. Hope to get some more good tutorials from you. Take care.

nice tut

very nice tut i was wondering who made it and how could i get in contact with them?

very nice tut indeed =)

That would be me ;) - you

That would be me ;) - you can reach me here

Good tutorial, like PS lover

Good tutorial, like PS lover said it's useful for learning the pen tool. Now I can try and make my own tribal designs. Thanks!

easy stuff but good mate

easy stuff but good mate

This really help me

This really help me understand the pen tool thanx

nice 1

nice 1

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